A few weeks before our recent vacation, I stumbled across a recommendation for Jeff Shinabarger’s book, More or Less, subtitled: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity. I liked the sound of that, so I ordered it up through my interlibrary loan service (I like to test-drive my books before I buy).
It arrived just before we headed off and I brought it with me.
And I am so glad I did.
“Life-changing” is a term that gets thrown around a lot. But I don’t think it’s excessive to use it here.
The premise of the book is that most of us in the developed world have far more than we need. We certainly have far more than most of the rest of the world. And we’re encouraged to share, freely, generously and, yes, excessively.
The piece that stopped my heart was The Global Rich List. The numbers are mind-boggling. If you earn $2500 per year, you’re in the top 14.93% of the richest people in the world. No. I did not miss any zeros in that number.
$10,000 puts you in the top 13.31%
And if you earn $20,000 per year? You’ve cracked to top ten percent, my friend, sitting at 7.16% of the richest people in the world.
More or Less was published in 2013, so I wondered how today’s numbers look. This chart is fascinating, if depressing.
Of 77 countries listed in the world, only 45 have an average annual income above $10,000. The next one of my friends to claim that they’re poor is going to get the frowning of a lifetime.
But the book is not about gloom and doom or loaded with guilt.
It’s about joyfully living in a way that helps to right some of the egregious social inequities we see in the world around us. It’s about deciding what’s enough for you in terms of food, clothing, money, stuff, and then generously and freely sharing the rest.
Jeff describes, and encourages the reader to try experiments to determine what is enough for them.
He and his wife did a food experiment that involved eating up all the food they had in their house. Some of the meals were a bit, um, creative and you wouldn’t want to live off of frozen waffles and whatever weirdness lurks in the back of your pantry for too long.
But as a way to understand just how much excess we’re living with? Amazing.
At the end of the experiment, he and his wife had gone SEVEN WEEKS eating just what they already had in the house. And how much of that would have gone to waste had they not set themselves the task of eating it all up?
What I most love about this book is that he’s taken the all-too-common, calculating advice that if you want to get ahead in life, you should make friends with people who are better off than you, who have what you want so they’ll inspire you, and turned it on its head.
He says you should make friends with people who have less than you, people who are struggling, so they can open your eyes and your heart.
He also says not to be a dick about it. Using people for your own ends, no matter how noble they seem to you, is wrong.
But being aware of your demographic and being open to making friends outside of it will lead you to a much richer life than making friends with people who are richer than you ever will.
I think it’s such a beautiful way of looking at life.
At the end of the book, we’re encouraged to run our own enough experiment.
I think I’ve got a good handle on what is enough for me in terms of food and clothing (much less than what I currently have). So for my experiment, I’m setting aside money every week to give away. It’ll be like having a giving allowance. So when we see a story about someone in need, we can empty the jar and pass it along. And if we go a while without coming across a pressing story (as if!), we can pick a charity and send them a donation.
I won’t be wondering if we ‘can afford it’ because it will be money we’ve purposely set aside to give.
I suspect that, as happened when I set up a regular savings habit, I’ll find other bits of income to put in the jar; leftovers from my own spending money or other windfalls that may come my way.
As I was putting the first donation into the jar, I remembered a conversation I had with my Dad about tithing, a practice he and my Mum started sometime in the ‘50s, long before they ‘could afford it.’
“Mum was a little worried when I suggested it,” he admitted. “We had a growing family and not a lot of cash, but we started. And we’ve never been short of money since.”
“Mmmm,” I said noncommittally. Dad was a very religious man, and I am not. Discussions that veered anywhere near religion were a minefield.
“I don’t think it was magic,” he said. “I think tithing just changed my perspective. It made me realize how much I have, so I didn’t keep wanting more and more and more.”
Jeff and his wife are Christians, and he’s written the book from that perspective. But it’s not the main thrust. So unless you’re completely allergic to any mention of religion, and you’re interested in living more justly, I think you will love this book. Find it at your library, or order it from your local, independent bookseller.
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